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Two weeks ago Chris Harvey joined a collection of the nation’s best high school players and future Major League Baseball draft prospects in San Diego for the Perfect Game All-American Classic.
There, players stretching from California to Florida were united by one common trait – their ability to play the game of baseball at a high level.
Harvey, though, now stands out among the rest. While the rest of the players that competed in the PG All-American Classic will test the MLB draft waters next summer, Harvey opted to take the same road as former college players such as UCLA’s Trevor Bauer, Long Beach State’s Jake Thompson and USC’s Robert Stock.
Harvey, a Vanderbilt signee who begins classes in Nashville, Tenn., on Wednesday, opted to skip his senior year of high school to attend college, a move that some college coaches hope becomes the norm as a way to beat the MLB system.
“I kind of got the idea to do it when I committed last fall, but I committed to enrolling early this summer. It gives me an extra year in college,” Harvey said. “But most importantly, it gives me another chance to get to Omaha and win a national title.”
Now certainly is a good time for Harvey to join the Commodores. They reached the College World Series for the first time last season, and the ‘Dores will be breaking in a new catcher after veteran Curt Casali graduated following a campaign where he hit .303 with seven home runs and 53 RBIs.
Time will tell if Harvey can step in and provide an immediate big boost. But it’s safe to say he has the tools and experience to do so.
The Norristown, Pa., native, has a large frame at 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, and has plenty of experience competing at an elite level. He competed in 18 Perfect Game showcases and tournaments throughout his high school career and is ranked 54 nationally, 1 in Pennsylvania and 5 at the catcher position.
“I gained a lot of experience through those PG events, and it’s where Vanderbilt saw me for the first time,” Harvey said. “The coaches liked what they saw from me and I have to say going to those events was a huge part of the recruiting process for me.”
Harvey may remind Vanderbilt fans of a familiar face.
“Harvey is very similar in many ways to Curt Casali. Casali, who is also from the Northeast, was a switch hitter but both he and Harvey are tall, angular catchers who are quick and athletic for their size, while also having good arms and some power,” said David Rawnsley, PG’s Director of Scouting. “I think Harvey will adjust very quickly to the college game, as he hits breaking pitches very well and despite being from the Northeast, has played plenty of high level baseball against top competition.”
Harvey will soon have the chance to show the Commodores what he brings to the table. But in the meantime, he’s busy getting acclimated to the college environment. He arrived in Nashville this past weekend and spent much of Monday in orientations.
After leaving home and arriving at Vanderbilt, a typical high school senior might feel home sick or regret their decision to attend college a year early. Not Harvey. If anything, his feelings the first few days only reinforce the decision.
“All the guys I talked to about the decision loved doing it, and so far I love the decision, too,” he said. “Now I’m ready to get out on the field. Being a big guy, I’m always trying to improve my flexibility and mobility. I want to do everything I possibly can to be able to get out there and catch every game.”
This Perfect Game All-American is on the fast track.
Florida commit also enrolling early
Perhaps there’s something about high school catchers and enrolling early.
While Vanderbilt’s Chris Harvey already is enrolled in college, Florida commitment Taylor Gushue announced he would join the Gators on January 7, thus opting to skip his senior season of high school baseball.
“The main reason for the decision is my desire to get better at the game of baseball. Everything I’ve done in my career thus far is with the intention of becoming a better overall player,” he said. “I feel like going to Florida early is the best decision for my career and I feel like I’ll improve that much more joining the Gators a little early. I think it’ll be a great experience.”
Gushue had a great resource for advice on the matter. His father, Fred, is a chaplain for the St. Louis Cardinals and consulted with Robert Stock on the pros and cons of going to college early. That advice, Gushue said, was invaluable.
“We knew we were going to say no to the MLB draft. We want Taylor to be a big leaguer someday, not to just get drafted next summer,” Fred Gushue said. “He’ll learn valuable lessons in college and will grow as a teammate and leader.”
Though Harvey is expected to compete for the Vandy starting job in 2012, Gushue will be competing for the Gators’ backup spot in the spring, while learning valuable lessons from Florida All-American catcher Mike Zunino.
“I know Mike is one of the best catchers in college baseball. I think he’s going to be a tremendous pro catcher someday, too. Getting an opportunity to learn from him and learn what he has learned the past couple of years is huge,” Gushue said. “I look forward to it.”
Gushue, as with Harvey, is one of the top players in the 2012 class. He’s ranked 96 nationally, 16 in Florida and 12 at his position. He also stands at 6-foot-2, 190 pounds, and has competed in 10 Perfect Game events throughout his high school career.
“Gushue is one of the stronger players in the 2012 class and has a very mature approach at the plate. That, combined with his switch-hitting ability, should make him transition quickly to college baseball on offense,” Rawnsley said. “There’s some question as to whether he will stay behind the plate, but his bat is his best tool and that should factor immediately into the equation. I’m sure Coach Kevin O’Sullivan will find plenty of at bats for him.”
In the meantime, Gushue is focused on getting everything in order in his final semester of high school to get ready for the spring at Florida. And like Harvey, he has no reservations about making the decision to enroll early.
If anything, he views the opportunity as one that will allow him to become a better player now, and in the future, as he aspires to someday play in the big leagues.
“I think I need to improve on my catching and leadership skills in the spring,” he said. “The most important part of catching is learning how to take control of the game, to be the best kind of catcher possible for pitchers. That’s my goal.”
Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Perfect Game USA and has covered the sport for over 10 seasons. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org